“It is the tiger of nursery rhymes, the tiger of nightmares, the tiger our imagination conjures when the word itself is spoken.” (Dane Huckelbridge)
Dane Huckelbridge's 'No Beast So Fierce' is “The Terrifying True Story of the Champawat Tiger, the Deadliest Animal in History.” The title is borrowed from a line in Shakespeare's 'Richard-III'.
Readers, take note: Wild tiger kills are messy, but descriptions of the human remains from a tiger kill are downright gruesome, and might make you queasy. Luckily, there are few such scenes in this book. The bulk of the narrative is an informative discussion of tigers in nature, and in mythology, history, and religion. It also includes a description of the life-sagas of the Champawat Man-eater (the most famous in history) and of the man, Jim Corbett, who finally hunted her down in the Himalayan foothills.
We should also consider seriously the author's discussion of mankind's serious degradation of the tiger's natural environment. Tiger habitat has been so severely devastated that some tigers have been pushed to extreme behaviors in order to survive.
Along the way we are introduced to the sport of 'bagh shikar', tiger hunting, by Mughal emperors, maharajas, and British colonial sahibs. We are reminded of tigers in the writings of Rudyard Kipling and William Blake. And we are told the story of the Goddess Durga who rode a tiger into battle against the demons.
The result of all this is a frankly written book — informative, insightful, and downright captivating.
After her teeth and jaw were shattered early in life by a hunter's bullet, the (in)famously renowned tigress called the 'Champawat Man-Eater' was physically unable bring down normal large-bodied prey, such as elephant calves, wild boar, deer, water buffalo, sloth bear, leopards, and even crocodiles. Instead, she turned to stalking, killing, and eating easier victims including vulnerable, defenseless villagers (mostly women and girls) out cutting grass or collecting firewood, and others, male and female, young and old, who dared to walk along forest lanes at dusk.
This critter, the author tells us, “hunted Homo sapiens on a regular basis across the rugged borderlands of Nepal and India in the early 1900s with shocking impunity and an almost supernatural efficacy. In the end, its reported tally added up to 436 human souls – more, some believe, than any other individual killer, man or animal, before or since.”
è INSERT SHORT SIDEBAR HERE – ‘What Makes a Man-Eater’
The Champawat Man-eater began her rampage over 100 years ago in Far West Nepal, near Dadeldhura. She was known there as the 'Rupal Man-eater', named after the village she terrorized by killing at least two hundred human victims in a period of two years. It took a group of enraged men to drive her out of the neighborhood, westward across the international border into the Kumaon hills of north India.
The Rupal Man-eater part of the saga comes a bit roundaboutly from stories told by an elderly Nepali gentleman who was a boy at the time, but remembered well what he saw of the event and retold as an epic tale. His name was Nar Bahadur Bisht, the grandfather (hajurbuwa) to one and great uncle (sailo hajurbuwa) to another of this reviewer’s friends from west Nepal.
In India, the Rupal Man-eater was renamed after the Kumaoni village of Champawat where its score of kills grew ever larger. It was only after the 434th victim and numerous failed attempts to kill it that the renowned Jim Corbett was called upon to dispatch the menace once and for all. It was Corbett's first man-eater hunt, but before he could finish the task, two more villagers unfortunately died, to total 436 (or more; nobody was sure).
Jim Corbett had grown up in this part of colonial India. He was especially well respected for his hunting skills, his intimate knowledge of the jungle environment, and his ability to speak the local language fluently. He was, in effect, a white Kumaoni. The author of ‘No Beast So Fierce’ gives us a nice summary of Corbett's role in the Champawat Man-eater affair. For some of his information, Dane Huckelbridge has relied on the never-boring story of the hunt that Corbett describes in detail in his popular book, ‘Man-eaters of Kumaon', first published in the 1940s and still a best-seller.
In Huckelbridge’s well-informed narrative about the life of Bengal tigers generally, we learn about the unique place of Panthera tigris tigris in nature, including some startling statistics about their immense size and power. A mature tigress can weigh up to 400 pounds, for example, and males top out in excess of 500. The jaw of an adult tiger is capable of exerting a thousand pounds of pressure per square inch, stronger than any other cat; greater than the bite of a pit bull; greater than that of a great white shark; and even greater than a Kodiak bear, which may be three times heavier. The largest Bengal Tiger ever known weighed 857 pounds. He is on display, all 11 feet and 1 inch of him, with paws as large as dinner plates, in Washington DC's Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History. The taxidermist posed him in the fearful attack mode.
Dane Huckelbridge is a good story-teller, and though this glimpse into 'No Beast So Fierce' is short, the book is well worth the read. Simply put, it's a winner.
“…that the Champawat Tiger existed, hunted and ate human beings by the dozens, and was eventually shot by Jim Corbett in 1907 is an established fact. The number may beg further study, but the story is true. And at the bottom of the Champa Gorge, near the village of Phungar just outside of Champawat proper, the projecting rock where Corbett killed the man-eater still stands today – just as he described it – a mute witness to the dramatic events that transpired there well over a century ago.” (Dane Huckelbridge)
What Makes a Man-Eater?
“A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it,” Corbett wrote in the preface to his first book, Man-eaters of Kumaon. “The stress of circumstances is, in nine cases out of ten, wounds, and in the tenth case old age... Human beings are not the natural prey of tigers,” he said, “and it is only when tigers have been incapacitated through wounds or old age that, in order to survive, they are compelled to take to a diet of human flesh.”